Editorial: Collapse of the Popular Front in France
The French Popular Front Government has gone the way of all attempts to operate capitalism according to non-capitalist rules. It came in with a great blare of trumpets and goes out silent and discredited, each faction blaming the others for the miserable finale. Yet, paradoxical as it may sound to those who do not understand the true function of Labour Governments and Popular Front Governments, it was quite a success. That function is to get capitalism out of those political storms which arise when the working class, driven too far, revolt and threaten to upset the mechanism of exploitation. The French capitalists faced such a revolt two years ago, when the fever of sit-down strikes swept France. In came a Popular Front Government led by Blum, a “Socialist,” and backed by the Communist Party. It passed some reform legislation, told the workers to be good boys and wait for better conditions when the “Socialist” Government got to work, and so the trick was done—or, at least, the French ruling class think it has been done. The workers are now confused and disappointed, the employers have recovered their nerve, and the old gang of capitalism think they can safely take the reins again. Altogether, the Popular Front has been a good investment for French capitalism.
The way the Government came to an end contains a lesson for those who hold the theory that a Labour or Popular Front Government can be neutral in the class struggle and keep the ring fairly for both employers and workers. A fortnight before it collapsed the Government invoked special powers to smash the Paris transport strike. “But,” the apologist will say, “it is the duty of a Labour Government to keep the public services going and not allow the public to be intimidated by either workers or employers.”
We won’t waste time examining the fallacy of that argument but turn to the way the same Government acted to the employers a fortnight later. The Government called a conference of employers’ and workers’ organisations to discuss economic peace. The French equivalent of the Trades Union Congress readily consented, but big business treated it with disdain, and refused to attend except on unreasonable conditions, which they knew would not be acceptable.
Did the Government then call out the armed forces, clap some big business leaders in jail, and threaten the rest with martial law? Nothing of the kind.
What the Prime Minister actually did was to make a bitter speech in which, in addition to attacking speculators, he attacked the workers for striking. (Daily Herald, January 14th, 1938.) So ended the Popular Front Government.
“But,” the apologist will again say, “if the Government were to take action against the capitalists the existing organisation of society would be endangered and public opinion would be against them.”
All very true, but what then is left of the Labour Party’s case for reforming capitalism? And what is there left to say against the Socialist argument that working class problems can only be solved by abolishing capitalism, and capitalism can only be abolished after a majority of the population have been won over to want it abolished ?
One step forward can be recorded in France. Having had experience of this sort of thing, the French workers will not be so easily roused to enthusiasm next time capitalism lets a Popular Front Government extricate it from a crisis. Capitalism masquerading as Socialism is a fruit which the French workers will find less enticing in future. It has, if we may say so, lost its bloom.
Before the new Government was finally formed, Blum tried to get a Cabinet together.
Although he long ago declared that he would in no circumstances desert his Party, as did the late J. R. MacDonald in Great Britain, Blum attempted to form a coalition of seven parties, including’ parties not in the Popular Front. His statement was as follows: —
I am attempting to form a national coalition round the Popular Front.
This becomes in practice an attempt to associate the representatives of all the parties of the Popular Front with men who have until now belonged to the Opposition, but who are known for their attachment to democratic liberties. (Daily Telegraph, 17th January, 1938.)
The attempt failed because M. Reynaud, who was expressly invited by Blum to join the new Government as Finance Minister, and “who has held this post in the Right Wing Governments of M. Laval and M. Tardieu . . . stipulated . . . that M. Marin’s Right Wing group should be included.” (Daily Telegraph, January 17th, 1938.) This condition M. Blum would not accept.
It will be noticed that the idea of a National Front, including Conservatives, was being canvassed about a year ago by Thorez, leader of the French Communists, and that when the new Government asked for a vote of confidence on first presenting itself to Parliament on January 21st, the Communists (and the Conservatives) were among the 500 who placed on record their confidence in this frankly capitalist Government.